This week’s shooting at a Nanaimo homeless camp next to the Millstone River — the second in three months — has renewed residents’ calls for the site to be permanently shut down.
One man from the camp was sent to hospital Wednesday and two others were taken into custody after the shooting at the camp, located down a steep embankment off the 200-block of Terminal Avenue.
In March, auto-repair shop owner Clint Smith was shot in the abdomen after going to the camp to retrieve property stolen from his business.
Nanaimo resident Kevan Shaw contacted the Times Colonist this week to say residents of the city are being “held hostage by a small band of street criminals that are being let to continue their mayhem.”
“It’s disgusting that the province is letting this go on,” he said, adding it has cost thousands of dollars for the city to clean up the camp.
Karen Kuwica, president of the Nanaimo Community Association, said residents have been complaining to the city for years about the camp.
“There’s been explosions, fires, violent assaults, physical altercations that have spilled over onto the highway.”
Jaywalking on the street in the camp area is frequent, leading to one four-car pileup, she said.
Kuwica said foot traffic to and from the camp has destabilized portions of the bank, and plants that helped buttress the soil are now gone, adding garbage that accumulates at the camp goes into the river, a salmon-bearing stream.
Neighbours also worry about the risk of fires, she said. “It all boils down to the Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure not taking any preventative action to actually deal with the risk it poses to the community.”
Kuwica said the community association has recommended creating a committee made up of area residents, the city, province and any other jurisdictions involved in that location.
Any clean-up efforts are only “band-aids” that do not solve the problem, she said.
The Transportation Ministry said in a statement Friday that the province is aware of safety concerns with the encampment and is working with the City of Nanaimo to find solutions. It said a local service provider will be connecting with campers to offer support to find more suitable shelter. The ministry said it will share more details as they become available.
The province is also working to address the need for new affordable and supportive housing in Nanaimo, the ministry said.
Last March, 51 supportive homes opened at 702 Nicol St., and three additional developments, which will provide a total of 141 supportive homes, are underway. The province said last year that complex-care housing was opening in Nanaimo.
Nanaimo Mayor Leonard Krog said he understands residents’ frustrations with the camp, which the city has already cleaned up once at a cost of about $12,000, including hiring a barge to carry materials away.
Krog said the province needs to do something about the property, which he believes is part of the highway right of way.
Because the camp is so difficult to reach and the bank is steep, it’s dangerous for police, community safety officers or workers trying to remove material. “Frankly sending people down there to do a cleanup is putting workers’ lives at risk.”
Krog said the camp is believed to be a centre of criminal activity in the area. The only long-term solution, however, is to “have a society where we have the facilities that deals with all those folks and their range of needs. Some just need housing and some need secure and involuntary care,” he said.